Paris City Archives collecting artefacts in front of the Bataclan concert hall, 37 boulevard Voltaire, December 10 2015

Photo credit: Patrice Clavier/ Archives de Paris

February 11, 2021

Paper Trails:

Memorials in an Age of Anxiety
Zoom video conference
Watch the video below

In the aftermath of the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, people paid tribute to the victims by bringing to the sites flowers, notes, candles, paintings – all sorts of offerings forming spontaneous memorials. Sarah Gensburger was one of the sociologists who documented their evolution, while the Paris Archives collected their contents. Similarly, Nora Philippe filmed the Women’s March on Washington D.C. in 2017 and, more tellingly, captured on film the morning after, when thousands of signs and testimonies of the historical moment were collected by passers-by for posterity or janitors for the garbage trucks. More recently, during the assault on the Capitol, while trespassers inside were taking selfies to capture the moment, outside, a few hours later, the Library of Congress was gathering abandoned signs on the Mall.

How do you tell the story of these ephemeral, collective “monuments”? What traces do they leave, and what duty do we have to collect and preserve traces of an historical moment? Are these fragments of memory a new way of writing a “people’s history,” distinct from traditional stone and marble monuments? How do these paper memorials enable us to honor the victims of today, while writing history for the citizens of tomorrow?

About the speakers:

A filmmaker, curator, and writer, Nora Philippe has directed Like Dolls, I’ll Rise (2018), which was selected in over thirty festivals in fifteen countries, Job Center, Please Hang On (2014), and The Ensorcery of James Ensor (2011). Pursuing her work on “archives ordinaires,” material culture, and the intimate, she curated the Black Dolls exhibition at La maison rouge in Paris in 2018, and is currently writing an essay on the history of African-American dolls in the United-States for Les Éditions de la Découverte. A graduate of the École normale supérieure of Lyon in Art History and History of Color, she co-edited A Black Doll Like Me (2018), Inventing Ancient Greek Painting (2012), and is the author of Dear Job Center (2015). Nora Philippe has also produced over ten creative documentaries with her independent production company Les films de l’air and curates an annual original film series for La maison française at Columbia University. She teaches filmmaking at the École des arts décoratifs de Paris, and was a Fellow at the Institute in 2019-2020.

Sarah Gensburger is a research professor in political science at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). Working at the intersection of memory studies, public policies analysis and micro-history, she published nine books among which the most recent ones are, in English, Beyond Memory. Can we really learn from the past? (co-written with S. Lefranc, Palgrave, 2020), Memory on my doorstep. Chronicles of the Bataclan Beighborhood (Paris, 2015-2016) (Leuven University Press, 2019, winner of French Voices Award – FACE foundation) and Witnessing the Robbing of the Jews. A photographic album. Paris 1940-1944 (Indiana University Press, 2015). She recently co-edited Les Mémoriaux du 13 novembre (Ed. EHESS, 2020)

In addition to her core academic work, she collaborated with several artists and has created public history and sociology of memory project such as the podcast collection It Happened Here and, starting in April 2020 and in collaboration with Marta Severo, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Paris – Nanterre, the collaborative collection #Windows in Lockdown.

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